My Favorite Albums of the Two-Thousands

The great things about lists: we all have them, and we love to argue about them.

  • Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha
  • Andrew Bird’s Noble Beast
  • Jeremy Casella - Recovery Jeremy Casella’s Recovery
  • Death Cab for Cutie’s Narrow Stairs
  • The Decemberists’ The Hazards of Love
  • Gnarls Barkley’s The Odd Couple
  • Matthew Perryman Jones’s Throwing Punches in the Dark
  • Andrew Osenga’s The Morning
  • Over the Rhine’s Drunkard’s Prayer
  • Over the Rhine’s Good Dog, Bad Dog [yes, I know that’s the 1990s version album cover; Amazon doesn’t have the 2000s re-release]
  • Eric Peters - Scarce Eric Peters’s Scarce
  • Radiohead’s In Rainbows
  • Sufjan Stevens’s Illinois
  • M. Ward’s Post-War
  • M. Ward’s Transfiguration of Vincent
  • M. Ward’s Transistor Radio
  • Derek Webb’s I See Things Upside Down
  • Derek Webb’s Stockholm Syndrome
  • The Weepies’ Say I Am You
  • Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

I think I’d have to list my top five artists of the decade as:

  1. Wilco, for the sheer amount of great records, touring, and taper-friendliness.
  2. Over the Rhine, for going strong through their second decade and keeping it together through a bunch of opportunities to completely derail.
  3. Derek Webb, for the controversy, for the songs, and for the friendship.
  4. M. Ward, for this ridiculous arc of great records.
  5. Sufjan Stevens, for making songs about faith accessible to hipsters.

My musical leanings skew strongly to the latter part of the decade, when I had the disposible income to devour music. I’ve always loved it, and now I can afford to buy it in spades—at the same time that producing music gets cheaper and easier.

Happy New Year to you and yours. As I post, my East Coast friends have slid into 2010. We’re still living in the past in Alabama [insert joke here].

Albums I Have Loved in 2009

This wouldn’t be a proper “here’s what I’ve been listening to” without a GeofCast episode, right? 🙂 Listen while you read.

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Let’s follow last year’s mojo:

  • Date is in the range: 01 Jan 2009 – 25 Dec 2009. Any cutoff point is arbitrary, but this makes sense to me. I’ve been willfully listening to Christmas music lately, so this helps hold the list growth down.
  • Kind does not contain AIFF [to filter out unprocessed bootlegs and demos].
  • Album Rating is greater than three stars.
  • Genre does not contain Concert Bootleg.

This list is unoptimized; it’s actually done in alphabetical order by artist. At the end, I’ll give a best-of list, countdown style. Because I like embracing constraints, I’ll give a one-sentence statement about each album as to why it’s just so darn good. If you’ve ever talked to me for longer than 90 seconds, you know that one sentence is an unreal constraint.

  1. Wilco (The Album), Wilco. There are so many good songs on this album, but I thought I’d start with the opening track—it’s a treatise for the record and, frankly, for Wilco as a band at this point.

    Are you under the impression
    This isn’t your life?
    Do you dabble in depression?
    Is someone twisting a knife in your back?
    Are you being attacked?
    Oh, this is a fact that you need to know

    Oh

    Wilco
    Wilco
    Wilco will love you baby

    As someone who “dabbles in depression”, yeah, I love this track … and this album … and this band.

  2. Andrew Osenga - Letters to the Editor, Vol. I and II Letters to the Editor, Vol. I and II, Andrew Osenga. Yes, this is a compilation of tracks that he gave away for free; if you’re cheap, you can get Volume I and Volume II online still. But if you like it, buy the disc and support independent music. I chose “Staring Out a Window (My Confession)” because it just hits home for me.
  3. Stockholm Syndrome, Derek Webb. Okay, you can argue that, as a friend of Derek’s and one of the three guys behind derekwebb.net, I’m predisposed to loving his music. You’re right. But this is a worthy buy for the following reasons: a) it tackles prickly issues of sexuality that most Christians are uncomfortable dealing with b) Fred Phelps gets made fun of c) it’s Derek and Josh Moore doing their best Gnarls Barkley impersonation, without sounding like a cheap knockoff and d) he says “shit” on the record and gets away with it. Sorta. I picked “The Spirit Vs. The Kick Drum” because it’s just a kickin’ little track.
  4. The Hazards of Love, The Decemberists. Many long-time Decemberists fans [of which I cannot claim to be; I’m late to the game] would argue that they feared what being on a major record label would do to their music. But give Capitol all the credit in the world for letting Portland’s finest put out what lesser reviewers would call a concept album, and what I think of as “literature set to music”. The arc of this album is one unbroken story, and it’s just so well-done, with themes repeated and twisted as the album builds on itself. That makes it difficult to pick out one song, but I chose “The Rake’s Song” because that will tell you whether or not you’ll want to listen to the whole thing.
  5. Noble Beast, Andrew Bird. I really thought that Armchair Apocrypha was going to be the apex of AB’s music for me. I didn’t think that he’d make a better record, but to my ears, he did with Noble Beast. Musically, it’s just so strong: songs with movement are just such a rarity in popular music these days that hearing tracks like “Masterswarm” is simply astonishing. It’s impossible for me to pick out a track I love the most, because I love them all, but I picked “Tenuousness” for this GeofCast episode.

If you made it this far, thanks!

GeofCast Episode 003: 1Q2008

This is the episode I originally envisioned for the GeofCast. I’m only 18 months late in getting it out …

  1. “Darkmatter” – Andrew Bird, Armchair Apocrypha
  2. “Aftermath” – Five O’Clock People, Temper Temper
  3. “Riga Girls” – The Weepies, Say I Am You
  4. “Change Is Hard” – She & Him, Volume One
  5. “The Things We Can and Cannot Keep” – Alli Rogers, You and the Evening Sky
  6. “Climb On (A Back That’s Strong)” – Caedmon’s Call, 2008-02-24: Philadelphia Biblical University, Langhorne, PA, USA
  7. “Watch Your Mouth” – Derek Webb & Sandra McCracken, Ampersand EP
  8. “Back Yard in Brooklyn” – Nathan Lee, Down at The Rutledge
  9. “Kashmir” – Led Zeppelin, Physical Graffiti

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Out of Print

So I’m working on the MusicBrainz listing for EP’s Chrome this afternoon, and while I’m looking up a couple thing, I decide to indulge my completionist tendencies and buy Land of the Living and More Than Watchmen, the only two EP recordings I don’t own. [Graciously, Pappy gave me Miracle of Forgetting and The Only Thing by Ridgely some years ago, the day I first met him.]

EP emailed me back to let me know that I’d bought the very last copy of MTW. I find that to be way cooler than it really is. It pleases my inner nerd.

The Problem of Pain

So I posted earlier on Facebook that I was listening to Bon Iver, saying: “Bon Iver on the iPhone in the office this morning. Like Pip says: I hate that someone broke his heart like that, but I do love the result.” My friend Jud replied:

Isn’t it such a strange truth that so much beauty can come from pain? Personally, this is to me the most obvious solution to the problem of evil: in some mysterious way, it was actually “the best world possible” for evil to exist for a time.

That’s one of those things that seems both profound and utterly obvious. If nothing else, I guess this goes along with the Linford Detweiler quote, “Sad music … makes me happy.” It probably also drives home why I listen to Elliott Smith, Portishead, Bon Iver, et al … 😉

Summertime Driving Playlist

Brandon and I are going to Florida this weekend to go see STS-127 lift off from the Cape. [I’m bummed that Nathan can’t go, since I crashed on his couch last time and everything.] I’m putting together the second episode of the GeofCast to be a summertime driving playlist, with the eye that the whole podcast will be under 80 minutes and the playlist itself under 74, so it could be burned to a CD. I’ve done a first cut at a list, and I’m sorta happy with it, but I’ll take suggestions: what would you put on a summertime driving playlist? Leave a suggestion in the comments.

Elements of a Good Band Website

Okay, so here’s a rant that I’ve had boil up in my head for the better part of a year or two, and finally, well, I’m here.

If I made a band’s Web site, I would have, at a minimum:

  1. Lyrics to the songs. This is so unbelievably important, and it’s so unfuckinglybelieveably frustrating that more bands don’t do it. Let me give you a hint, bands: hiding your lyrics from the Web will just have some fanboy put them out there for the world to see, and the people who will get the traffic [and the ad revenue] are the shady jerks with the “Congratulations, you have won a free Nintendo Wii!” ad that screams at you the moment the page loads. You want that traffic. Why? You want them to know who you are.
  2. Tour date listings. Essential. It’s a pain to update them, I know. There’s many apps out there for that, but I would choose Yahoo!’s Upcoming if I were you. Upcoming is searchable, scriptable, extensible, and also pretty darn easy to update. Then there are folks like me who use All Crazy Style to mash up Upcoming data with Last.FM plays to find out when bands I like are playing near me. Real simple: you load the data in Upcoming, and you can spit it out on your site. You can update Upcoming from anywhere.
  3. Links to listen to your stuff. Don’t fire music at me when I load your site. I know you’re a musician, but the Web is largely about text. Let me choose to listen, and give me that option, but that auto-load bullshit is for MySpace. [And don’t get me wrong, MySpace has value.]
  4. Links to buy your stuff. These need to be everywhere: main site, discography pages, album pages, individual song pages. If you create a page per song, that individual song page should have a link of a place to buy that song—iTunes, eMusic, what have you. You want to cater to the fan coming in to Google some obscure lyric they heard on a commercial or in a Zach Braff vehicle—they’re gonna buy that shit if you give them half a chance.

The way to think about it is this: most people aren’t going to load up your main Web site and have that be their entry point. They just aren’t. Google is going to send them to you. So, think about a song you really love, Mr. Band Guy, and Google that. So, if you love Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”, you get Last.FM’s page for the song … which has … BINGO … iTunes link. Last has done the heavy lifting for you here. But they’re gonna do that for Page and Plant … chances are they won’t for your garage band.

Some thoughts: if you get a song picked up for Grey’s Anatomy or Kyle XY or whatever, you want to 1) have that fact listed on a page about that song, and not just in a news feed/blog 2) lyrics of the song on that page, so the Googlers who are bad with names but good with ears for mumbled lyrics can find it and 3) a quick, fast way for them to buy that song and 4) relevant links on that page to find out more about you. The scenario is this: “I heard this killer song on Scrubs last night. Let me find it on Google … ooooh, there it is. 99 cents? Sure, I love that song. Hmm … who is this guy? Let me read more about him …”

It’s hell getting found in the music business. It’s hell getting found in the blogging world, too—which is why this entry is named like it is. Chances are that, if you’re not one of my regular readers, you got here from the Goog, too … so you should be nodding your head.

Okay, okay, okay, examples.

Bad: M. Ward: LOUD MUSIC, can’t find shit. Damn shame, because I love M. Ward.

Poor: Shearwater, which has a lyrics page for their stuff, but … in PDF. I know, you want art. I want to cut and paste the lyrics into iTunes. Don’t make me work, dammit.

Okay: The Mountain Goats, who have lyrics for The Sunset Tree available, but that page does not get you anywhere on that site. There isn’t a link to be found—not to the rest of the site, not to a place to buy the song you Googled, nothing. Kudos for posting the links, though.

Good: Andy Osenga, and not just because he uses some of my photos on the site. But he’s still not to great, because lyrics … Andy Osenga lyrics on Google don’t get you anywhere near him. [Or, for that matter, near andrewosenga.net, which is a problem Chris Hubbs and I should fix…]

Great: well, hell, no one really comes to mind. Leave suggestions for good band sites in the comments.

Folks, I know … this shit is hard. But it makes you money, so you better work at it.

Audio Hijack Pro + Fission = Awesome

Lately, I have become a fan of Rogue Amoeba‘s products. This should surprise exactly no one: they write software focused around audio for OS X, and I’m an audio nerd who loves OS X. When I saw that NPR was streaming M. Ward’s Hold Time, I decided to put Audio Hijack Pro and Fission through their paces.

Audio Hijack Pro

I’m just scratching the surface of what AHP can do, I know. I’m using Quick Record to do this because, well, I’m lame. But in my case, AHP is taking the audio output of Firefox and recording it as an Internet stream, 128kbps stereo AAC. It does everything in one big chunk, which I then feed to …

Fission

… Fission, which claims to be “Fast, Lossless Audio Editing”. And for what I used it for, it’s quite, quite true. Now, as a note, I’m okay with the lossiness here because 1) this is a transport medium and 2) I’ve already pre-ordered the CD. I am also that person who, when coming in contact with, shall we say, illicitly-gained audio, listens and makes a quick buy/trash decision. If I don’t like it, I trash it. Very simple. Again, I’m gonna want [and buy, and cherish, and let you pry from my cold, dead fingers] the lossless version, so what’s happening here is a net win. [Looking at you, RIAA.]

Suffice it to say that I’m a happy dude.